The Great British Walk

A personal record of my three month walk of the full length of Great Britain from north to south with written journal and photographs. Tracklogs for GPS units and for use with Google Earth are available for download for each stage.


Stage 17: Invergarry to Strone

Statistics and Files
Start: Invergarry Finish: Strone Distance: 19.1 miles (30.7 km)
Time: 10 hours Climbing: 312 metres Rating: Strenuous
GPX Route File Google Earth File About the Great Glen
Statistics
Start: Invergarry Finish: Strone
Distance: 19.1 miles (30.7 km) Time: 10 hours
Climbing: 312 metres Rating: Strenuous
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Summary

We all make mistakes and the one I made today was the biggest mistake I have ever made when on a long distance walk. As for todays stage it was mixed with road to start, a lovely walk along the Caledonian Canal to follow and then a long walk through a pine plantation on the Great Glen Way beside Loch Lochy. I enjoyed the first two parts but not the third, a long dirge for me which could have finished my walk. After completing the walk beside Loch Lochy I should have rested for the night at Clunes. Instead I soldiered on and capitulated in dusky condition a further seven miles on at Strone. I had doggedly made for Fort William to give me an extra days break. I conceded defeat on the way and collapsed a few miles short.

(Note: My walk of the Cape Wrath Trail was a part of my Great British Walk from the north coast of Scotland to south coast of England)

Stage Report

Today I entered the Great Glen on my final push toward Fort William, 25 miles away. I had no planned finishing point as accommodation could not be found; wild camping was to be the order of things at the end of the day.

Sign to the Great Glen Way at InvergarrySign to the Great Glen Way at Invergarry
River GarryRiver Garry

Despite my interim goal of finishing the Cape Wrath Trail section of my walk at Fort William drawing ever closer and though there were no big climbs for a while it was with a hint of poignant loss when I set off from Invergarry into the Great Glen. The magnificent high mountains, the wide open spaces, the rugged landscape, the remoteness, the uniqueness and the character of the far north were now behind me and a banked memory. The strength sapping trudging through peat bogs, the ascents and descents of untracked bealachs, the wading of gushing streams and rivers, the many lochans all with their own individual character, the knife edge approaches to classic waterfalls; what shall I do without them? I must admit there was a high sense of sadness when I thought back to those events and the jaw dropping sights of the three weeks walking now done. Luckily the disappointment was tempered by the imagination of more great places and scenes to come on this Great British walk. And one to look forward today was the thought of getting close to the biggest Ben of them all.

The revenge of Iain LomThe revenge of Iain Lom
Caledonian CanalCaledonian Canal

The first couple of miles following the road from Invergarry toward the Great Glen Way were unremarkable apart from the fact I passed a shop, the first shop I had passed since the newsagents in Glen Shiel. I could not remember the one before that. Ullapool perhaps? I would have ran to the shop if my sore feet had allowed. I actually walked slowly but with eager anticipation in mind. A sandwich, two drinks, Bounty bar, newspaper and a cup of coffee were purchased. Outside the shop I read the newspaper, feasted on the Bounty and drank the coffee before moving on.

Because I wanted to give my feet as much time to recover as possible it had been a ponderous start to the day. I had not left the hotel in Invergarry until after 10.15am. The shop was just over a mile away and while I reached it at 11.00am it was close to noon before I left. I took my time over the coffee, reading the paper and as I had a phone signal I sent a few messages. It had passed noon by the time I left the road just after Laggan Swing Bridge. I had finally reached the Caledonian Canal and I was now on the Great Glen Way.

Lovely woodland walkingLovely woodland walking
Barge pub at Laggan LocksBarge pub at Laggan Locks

My first mile on the Great Glen Way was enchanting. I followed a woodland footpath with the Caledonian Canal close to my right hand side. After an overcast showery beginning to the walk the sun now glistened though the trees. It was like magic after the roadside walking of the past two days. Gaps in the trees provided wonderful views of the canal and small marinas were complemented with expensive yachts and humbler leisure boats. I could sense I was walking into the opulence of the Great Glen Way after the hardship of the Cape Wrath Trail. This feeling was accentuated by the fact I was now walking in the midst of people strolling the woodland and canal paths while before I had been walking completely alone.

Loch Lochy and Meall nan DearcagLoch Lochy and Meall nan Dearcag
The story of Wild Alasdair and Bishop HughThe story of Wild Alasdair and Bishop Hugh

The magic of the woodland walk lasted for the mile it took to follow the Caledonian Canal from Laggan Swing Bridge to Laggan Locks at the east end of Loch Lochy. At Laggan Locks there was a pub boat. It was closed but had it been open I would not have ventured in. I was focused on walking and getting as close to Fort William as possible. I was in good spirits to progress despite my ailing feet which clearly needed some decent rest. What followed next was demoralising.

Loch LochyLoch Lochy
The long arduous plantation trackThe long arduous plantation track

I entered a forest which would take me on my course on the north side of Loch Lochy. The east side of the forest was South Laggan Forest. The west side was Clunes Forest. There was no differentiation between the two. The length of the forest trail was seven and one half miles. The scenery was the same throughout. High plantation pines were to my left and high plantation pines were to my right. On the odd occasion I reached clearings where gaps allowed me uninterrupted views to Loch Lochy on my left and the mountains of Sean Mheall, Meall Dubh, Meall ne Teanga and Meall Odhair on my right. Mainly though it was the monotonous sight of the uniform trees. If anyone reading this has done the Coast to Coast walk then think Ennerdale Forest in the Lake District. You will know what I mean. The monotony tired me physically and mentally. I was exhausted in body and mind when I finally dragged my ailing desperate personality out of the forest to the hamlet of Clunes. What was I to do. What I decided to do was a huge mistake.

View across Loch LochyView across Loch Lochy
BunarkaigBunarkaig

At Clunes I had walked twelve miles. After the 23 miles of yesterday my body, especially my feet were telling me enough was enough. Set up camp they were screaming to me. My mind had other ideas. Plenty of daylight left, struggle on old chap, struggle on, it kept telling me. Mind won over matter. Stubbornness won over sense.

Has anyone read the Wainwright Guide to the outlying fells of the Lake District? In the guidebook Wainwright describes the smaller outlying fells as perfect for the older or geriatric man who has spent a lifetime on the big mountains but who cannot physically do them any more. In the guides he has a cartoon character oldie, doubled over and puffing and panting along the way. Look at those drawings, see that character, imagine his every effort for each step. Imagine me.

Caledonian Canal rules at GairlochyCaledonian Canal rules at Gairlochy
Caledonian CanalCaledonian Canal

From Clunes I hauled myself along a single track road to Bunarkaig on the north western shore of a very picturesque spur of Loch Lochy. Advantage had been taken of the picture postcard setting by grand houses built on the loch side, all with resplendent and perfectly groomed gardens. No board for me here, go on traveller, go on. Trudge I went past the mini mansions to walk a weary two miles further to Gairlochy which thankfully saw the end of Loch Lochy, a water I had unfairly come to loathe. I had just wanted an end to the walk alongside it, nothing personal.

Should I camp at Clunes? It had been my plan to do so but something very strange happened. For some reason and I cannot explain how and why my body came back to me. Albeit temporary my legs ached less, as did my sore feet. I guess it was the euphoria of reaching my designated target which caused the adrenaline rush. Whatever happened it spurred me to go on. So I set off heading west along the Caledonian Canal towpath with eight miles to Fort William. There was enough daylight. Why not?

Ben NevisBen Nevis
Site of my capitulationSite of my capitulation

During my early start to the walk it had rained slightly. On joining the Great Glen Way the sun had shined Even through the monotonous forest it had remained dry with a mix of sunshine and cloudy skies. Through Clunes and during the labour of my slow walk to Gairlochy it had stayed dry too. One mile into my walk along the canal from Gairlochy my luck ran out. It started to rain. It was now eight in the evening. I donned my wet gear, put my head down and strode on. The rain got heavier and with the evening drawing on the skies got significantly darker. Still I strode on but then at just before nine in the evening I hit the wall. No sanctuary in Fort William this night after all.

I had to find a place to camp. Fortunately for me I was near a canal weir on the opposite bank to a small place called Strone. Near the weir a track led down the bank and below was a birch wood. I took myself to the copse, found a suitable pitch and set up camp. It was 9.15pm. I was exhausted so I immediately cooked, ate and then I put my head down and tried to sleep. It was not a good nights rest, sleep was intermittent and often interrupted by awakenings caused by the searing and painful throbbing in my feet.


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